Abstract - Hilliard, O'Neal

High Stakes Communication About Safety: Gesture Makes the Point

Abstract: Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death of children in the United States. Parents play a critical role in maintaining their children’s safety through communication with their children. Our previous work on communication about safety reveals that parents modulate one aspect of communication in particular – their hand gesture – as a function of their child’s communicative needs. Parents gesture and speak more about safety rationales when they are made aware that their child has a perspective on safety different than their own. Moreover, this increase in gesture occurs a rate higher than expected due to the increase in speech. Thus, gesture may be providing children with additional information to facilitate their understanding and instillation of safety values. This leads to the critical question of what children are doing with this additional information. Do children construct meaning from the increase in gesture rate? And does this increase in gesture facilitate the instillation of safety values? This is the goal of the current study: to empirically assess whether these natural modulations of gesture affect children’s understanding of safety values. (Catie Hilliard and Elizabeth O’Neal, collaborating with Susan Wagner Cook and Jodie Plumert).